Hyperextension of the Neck

Hyperextension of the neck is more commonly known as whiplash and is an injury that is caused by the sudden backward and forward motion of the neck. Hyperextension of the neck causes injury in the soft tissues of the neck and the neck joints, which are also known as the cervical vertebrae. The soft tissues include the tendons, ligaments, and muscles.

Driver holds neck after suffering whiplash in a crash. (Image: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images)

Causes

Hyperextension of the neck most commonly happens in automobile accidents when the vehicle is struck from behind and the car's occupants are not wearing their seat belts. However, hyperextension of the neck can also happen as a result of a diving accident, accidents in other sports, physical assault, an accidental fall, or chronic neck strain. There are some exercises that can cause hyperextension of the neck over time. These include full neck circles, the plough, inverted shoulder stand, inverted bicycle, and situps performed with hands behind the neck.

Symptoms

There are a number of symptoms that indicate hyperextension of the neck. The first of these is neck pain. This pain is generally felt along either side of the spine at the back of the neck, although there is also pain whenever the neck is moved. It is also common for there to be a stiff neck, headache, muscle spasms, tenderness along the back of the neck, and sometimes a tingling or numbness in the upper body or shooting pain from the neck into the shoulder and down the arm.

Diagnosis

Hyperextension of the neck is usually diagnosed via a physical examination of the neck and a medical history, including details of the accident that caused the injury. X-rays may be taken if fracture is suspected. It is best to seek medical attention immediately after an accident if there is any concern of possible neck injury.

Treatment

If paramedics think an injury to the neck is possible, then a neck brace is applied and the patient transported to the hospital. Hyperextension of the neck will heal over time and it is necessary to do range of motion exercises to ensure the healing goes well. In addition, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs, can be taken to reduce the pain and swelling associated with the injury. If the pain is severe, then narcotic medication can be used and muscle relaxing medications can be used if muscle spasms occur. Other helpful treatments include cool compresses and physical therapy.

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